While many dentists already examine the mouth for signs of oral cancer during biannual dental checkups, laser dentistry has the potential to make routine screenings more effective at detecting issues early. From using lasers to reveal abnormalities that are not apparent with a visual inspection to performing a laser biopsy if any problems are suspected, there are many benefits to incorporating this technology.
Oral cancer screenings with a dentist
Oral cancer is a common type of cancer, especially in men, but is often not discovered until the later stages of the condition. If caught early, the outlook is much more positive. Screenings at a dental office are one method for detecting symptoms early on when the cancer is still treatable.
When to get checked
The American Dental Association recommends that dentists examine patients during routine appointments for signs of oral cancer, regardless of the person’s risk level. For most people, this means a screening at least every six months. It is also important to make an appointment right away if experiencing any of the common symptoms of the condition
- Any sores, pink or red patches, lumps, white or gray lesions, ulcers or crusted areas on the lips or inside of the mouth that do not go away after a two week period
- Pain or numbness experienced in the mouth or anywhere on the face or neck
- Sore throat or a hoarse voice
- Difficulty speaking, eating or moving the tongue or jaw
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Ear pain
- Changes in the mouth or to how dentures fit
- Unexplained weight loss
What to expect
When performing an oral cancer screening, the dentist both visually inspects the mouth and feels around the face, neck and glands for any abnormalities. Questions about the patient’s medical history can help the dentist determine if there are any behaviors or conditions that increase a person's risk. There are certain factors that contribute to the development of the condition, including tobacco or excessive alcohol use, HPV, sun exposure, older age and diet lacking in sufficient fruits and vegetables. If there are areas of concern, a brush test or biopsy is the next step in determining if any cancer cells are present.
Laser dentistry for oral cancer screenings
While dentists are limited to what can be seen with the naked eye when visually screening a patient for oral cancer, laser dentistry makes it possible to identify abnormalities that would otherwise go undetected. This technology can make a significant difference in how early the condition is caught. If a biopsy is required, lasers can be used to prevent cross-contamination during the procedure and minimize the amount of pain and discomfort experienced following the operation. In the situation that cancer is found, a CO laser may be used to remove lesions or for other surgical procedures that require cutting into the affected area.
While laser dentistry has many beneficial uses in finding and treating issues of the mouth, its contribution to oral cancer screenings is one of the most significant. By giving dentists another tool to more effectively find concerning abnormalities, more lives can be saved with early detection.
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